4 Easy Steps to Wine Tasting
by: Jennifer de Jong
Legend has it that Cleopatra once
promised Marc Anthony she would "drink the value of a province" in
one cup of wine, after which she drank an expensive pearl
with a cup of wine. Marilyn Monroe is rumored to have
bathed in a bathtub of champagne. The lure of wine is
cross-cultural and going strong. Enjoying wine, once
surrounded by pomp and circumstance, is now something
that many of us do on a daily basis to enjoy food, friends,
and family. There is no reason each experience shouldn't
be as exceptional as taking a bath in Champagne. Knowing
a few simple tips about tasting wine can enhance your
wine experience by leaps and bounds and easily transition
you from a wine lover to a wine expert.
STEP 1 - LOOKING
Fill the glass about one-third full, never
more than half-full. Pick it up by the stem. This may
feel awkward at first, but there are good reasons: Holding
the glass by its bowl hides the liquid from view; fingerprints
blur its color; the heat of your hand alters the wine's
temperature. Wine experts can usually tell right away
how much a person knows about wine by looking at the
way they hold their glass.
Focus on the hue, intensity and clarity
of the wine color. The true color, or hue, of the wine
is best judged by tilting the glass and looking at the
wine through the rim, to see the variation from the deepest
part of the liquid to its edges. Intensity can best be
gauged looking straight down through the wine from above.
Clarity-whether the wine is brilliant, or cloudy with
particles-is most evident when light is shining sideways
through the glass.
STEP 2 - SWIRLING
Next comes the swirling. This too can feel
unnatural, even dangerous if your glass it too full and
your carpet or clothing is new. But besides stirring
up the full range of colors, it lets the wine breathe
a little and releases some of the aroma for examination.
The easiest way to swirl is to rest the base of the glass
on a table, hold the stem between thumb and forefinger,
and gently rotate the wrist. Right-handers will find
a counter-clockwise motion easiest, left-handers the
Move the glass until the wine is
dancing, climbing nearly to the rim. Then stop. As
the liquid settles back into the bottom of the glass,
a transparent film will appear on the inside of the
bowl, known as the wine's "tears" or "legs." You
will often hear people pondering about the legs or showing
them off, "Hey look at the legs on this wine!",
but in truth they're simply an indication of the amount
of alcohol in the wine: the more alcohol, the more tears
STEP 3 - SMELLING
When you stop swirling, and the legs are
falling, it's time to take the next step: smelling. Swirling
the wine vaporizes it, and the thin sheet of liquid on
the sides of the glass evaporates rapidly; the result
is an intensification of the aromas. I'm sure you've
seen wine snobs do this and you have laughed at them,
but stick your nose right into the bowl and inhale.
There's no consensus about the proper sniffing
technique. Some advocate two or three quick inhalations;
others prefer one deep, sharp sniff. I've seen tasters
close one nostril, sniff, then close the other and sniff
again. It really doesn't matter how you do it as long
as you get a good sniff in. With practice, and keen attention,
you'll learn how to maximize your perception of aromas,
and then how to decipher them.
The world of smell is vast and bewildering.
First of all, our olfactory equipment is incredibly sensitive;
we can distinguish aromas in quantities so small that
laboratory equipment can scarcely measure them. Second,
our analytic capacity is extraordinary; estimates of
the number of different smells humans can identify range
up to 10,000!
As with color, wine's aromas offer insights
into character, origin and history. Because our actual
sense of taste is limited to four simple categories (the
well-known sweet, sour, bitter and salt), aroma is the
most revealing aspect of our examination. But don't simply
sniff for clues. Revel in the sensation. Scientists say
smells have direct access to the brain, connecting immediately
to memory and emotion. Like a lover's perfume, or the
scent of cookies from childhood, wine's aromas can evoke
a specific place and time with uncanny power.
STEP 4 - TASTING
With the aromas still reverberating through
your senses, put the glass to your lips and take some
liquid in. How much? You need to have enough volume to
work it all around your tasting apparatus, but not so
much that you're forced to swallow right away.
Because you don't want to swallow, not
just yet. It takes time and effort to force the wine
to divulge its secrets. I keep a pleasant wine in my
mouth for 10 to 15 seconds, sometimes more.
Roll the wine all around your mouth, bringing
it into contact with every part, because each decodes
a different aspect of the liquid. Wine provokes sensations,
too: The astringency of tannins is most perceptible on
the inner cheeks; the heat of the alcohol burns in the
back of the throat.
First, as you hold the wine in your mouth,
purse your lips and inhale gently through them. This
creates a bubbling noise children find immensely amusing.
It also accelerates vaporization, intensifying the aromas.
Second, chew the wine vigorously, sloshing it around
in your mouth, to draw every last nuance of flavor from
Don't forget the finish. After you swallow,
exhale gently and slowly through both your nose and mouth.
The retro-nasal passage, which connects the throat and
the nose, is another avenue for aromas, which can linger
long after the wine is finally swallowed. You'll find
that the better the wine, the more complex, profound
and long-lasting these residual aromas can be. With great
wines, sensitive tasters and minimal distractions, the
finish can last a minute or more. It's a moment of meditation
and communion that no other beverage can create.
About The Author
Jennifer de Jong is a long time wine drinker,
enjoyer of wine, and non-wine-snob. She is the founder
of Vino Vixenz. A snob-free zone to learn wine tasting.